Hollywood Contenders – Looking at Best Director hopefuls

Ladies and gentlemen, as you all know from years past, as well as my return article last week, it’s one thing to read early Academy Award predictions at this point in the year in order to see what folks like myself think will happen six or so months from now, but it’s another thing entirely to actually know something about what will be in contention. To help out in that regard, I’m once again running down some of the major contenders in each Oscar category in order to prep you all for the season to come. Basically, the format will have me saying a few words about what/who I feel are the top tier contenders right now in said categories, along with a longer list afterwards of many of the other hopefuls that the Academy might take a shine to. Consider this a sort of awards season cheat sheet to have in your back pocket before the madness fully begins.

Today I’m continuing with what’s almost undeniably the second biggest one that’s out there…the Best Director category.

Here are the ten (or technically 11) filmmakers that I have in play for Best Director, with the top five cracking the lineup at this point:

1. Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) – Much like with Best Picture, Nolan and Dunkirk is the safe bet right now. He might not end up the winner, but a nomination is probably the likeliest of the bunch. A win does make sense, but with so many snubs to date for Nolan, you have to remain a bit cautious. Until proven otherwise though, he’s easily in the pole position. The question is just if he’ll hold on or not. Stay tuned.

2. Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) – Quickly emerging as a contender to reckon with is del Toro, who saw The Shape of Water blow people away at the Telluride Film Festival as well as the Venice Film Festival. He’s had the biggest jump upwards of any hopeful in 2017. In fact, watch out for this one as a potential winner. Yes, that actually could happen.

3. Steven Spielberg (The Post) – The big X factor this year is also potentially one of the likeliest juggernauts. Spielberg’s latest is totally unseen as of now, but everything suggests it will be a player. The Post might very well end up being the one to beat in a lot of places, so it’s hard not to expect the master filmmaker to be among the nominated five in this category. Another win could be a bit too much, but we shall see…

4. Joe Wright (Darkest Hour) – Telluride helped cement Gary Oldman as the one to beat in Best Actor, so could Wright come along for the ride? Darkest Hour seems like a traditional player, which works in his favor. He’s come up short for things of that nature before, so he’s far from locked in, but this does seem like Wright’s time to finally get that first nomination.

5. Woody Allen (Wonder Wheel) – A real dark horse is the often nominated Allen, who will have his film Wonder Wheel close out the New York Film Festival this year. If this is vintage Woody, the Academy does love to nominate him in multiple categories. Bet against him at your own risk. At the very least, NYFF will have to wrap up before we know what we have here.

6. Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Battle of the Sexes) – Directing duos sometimes have trouble cracking this lineup, and that’s part of why I have Faris and Dayton (they’re credited in that order at the end of the film…I’ve seen it but currently am embargoed) on the outside looking in. If not for that issue, they’d be a slam dunk. More on them soon. Battle of the Sexes is going to do well this season, so why not this duo?

7. Alexander Payne (Downsizing) – Never count out Payne, even as Downsizing has met with a slightly muted reaction overall. The Academy is a big fan of what he does, so they could be more likely to come along for the ride than the festival going critical community so far. He’s fallen down a bunch over the last week or two, but he’s not out of it yet…

8. Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) – Among lesser known filmmakers, Guadagnino could be in line to make quite an impact. Call Me By Your Name has been blowing people away all year long, and that should continue for another few months. If that trend keeps up, he may very well end up in the top five by the time the year ends. It could certainly happen.

9. Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) – Another dark horse is Anderson and his still only hypothetically titled Phantom Thread. Known mainly as the final on screen role (supposedly) for Daniel Day-Lewis, if PTA knocks it out of the park, a return to the Director lineup would make a lot of sense. The film is simply an X factor. If it’s a strong movie, watch out for him!

10. Richard Linklater (Last Flag Flying) – Also at NYFF, opening that fest in fact, is Linklater’s latest. It doesn’t appear like a Best Director type of movie, but you never know. The festival will be the judge of that, at least. For the moment, he slips in just above other players like Darren Aronofsky (Mother), Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit), and Michael Gracey (The Greatest Showman), until proven otherwise.

Next in line I’d have these ten contenders (just sans commentary here) for Best Director:

11. Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit)
12. Darren Aronofsky (Mother)
13. Michael Gracey (The Greatest Showman)
14. Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049)
15. Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game)
16. Dee Rees (Mudbound)
17. Dan Gilroy (Roman Israel, Esq)
18. Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck)
19. Sean Baker (The Florida Project)
20. George Clooney (Suburbicon)

Finally, here are ten more to give us a top 30 to cull from, just sans commentary as well:

21. Clint Eastwood (The 15:17 to Paris)
22. David Gordon Green (Stronger)
23. Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World)
24. Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman)
25. Michael Showalter (The Big Sick)
26. Taylor Sheridan (Wind River)
27. Jordan Peele (Get Out)
28. James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
29. Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
30. James Mangold (Logan)

That’s what this year’s Best Director race could very well be made up of folks. Stay tuned sometime during the next week for my look at the Best Actor race!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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